Fundamentalists Go to School

Homeschool, fundamentalist colleges, mainstream law school.

That’s the educational career described movingly this morning by “Georgia” at Defeating the Dragons.

Georgia describes her parents’ decision to pull her out of public schools.  Though her parents were indeed staunchly conservative religious folks, the decision, as she remembered, was more about academic rigor than about Jesus.

When it came time for college, she first attended Pensacola Christian College.  As I’ve written elsewhere, the founders of this school chastised the leaders of Bob Jones University for not being strict enough.

From there, she moved to the relatively liberal Liberty University, “relatively” being the key word here.  With that degree under her belt, she attended Vanderbilt University Law School.

For those of us outsiders who are trying to understand conservative thinking about education, her story can tell us a great deal about one family’s attitudes.  As she remembers it, there was (and is) a good deal of bitterness and disagreement within her own family about the contours of proper education for conservative Christians.


Fear and Loathing in Fundamentalist America

Who hates whom?  Do “fundamentalists” hate the rest of us?

A new article about the hate-centric Westboro Baptist Church confirms what many of my secular, liberal friends and colleagues believe: fundamentalists hate.  Hate seems to be at the core of their fundamentalist identity.

But hate is a tricky thing.  Is it okay to hate the Westboro Church and its horrific tactics?  How about other fundamentalist groups?

Image Source: Top Ten Unbelievable Westboro Baptist Church Protests

Image Source: Top Ten Unbelievable Westboro Baptist Church Protests

The hatefulness of the Westboro sect is hard to deny.  Writing in the Los Angeles Times, Jenny Deam offers a portrait of Westboro refugee Libby Phelps-Alvarez.  Phelps-Alvarez, granddaughter of Westboro founder Fred Phelps, shares a story of cultish indoctrination into the Phelps family business.  You’ve seen the images: soldiers’ funerals picketed by Westboro members holding up signs saying, “God Hates Fags” and the like.

As Deams’ story relates, Libby grew up with the family church.  She began picketing at age 12.  By her late teens, though, according to Deams, “Libby began to wonder: ‘Am I doing the right thing? Should I be telling people they are going to hell?’”

Eventually, Libby left her church and family.  But she seems strangely ambivalent about it. As Deams concludes, “Libby isn’t sure what she believes anymore. She no longer hates homosexuality, but her journey is far from complete: ‘Everyone thinks when you leave you do this 180. It doesn’t work that way.’”

Many other ex-fundamentalists take a much angrier tone.  For some, hating the haters has freed them to engage in their own brand of hatefulness.

Ken Ham has complained recently of vicious verbal attacks on him and his young-earth creationist ministry by groups of atheists.  Ham planned to speak at a Texas homeschooling conference, and Texas freethinkers posted their discussion about their planned response.

Most of their planning revolved around intelligent protests and information-sharing.  Vic Wang of the Houston Humanists made the intelligent point that their protests should not be against religion.  Rather, Wang argued, they should paint Ham as a specific sort of “extremist,” a “crackpot.”

Other speakers took an angrier tone.  “Sister Shayrah” equated creationism and conservative religion with child abuse.    She insisted that religious parents were free to teach their children their beliefs, but that no parent, in any sort of school, could be allowed to use religion as an “excuse for damaging or hurting or indoctrinating your child.”

Shayrah and other participants, such as Neely Fluke, noted that they had been brought up in the world of young-earth creationism and fundamentalist Protestantism.  That has left them angry.

I can’t claim to know what it is like to grow up in the world of fundamentalism.  Many of those who grew up that way, such as Jonny Scaramanga or “Forged Imagination,” have offered compelling insights into their feelings and transformations.

But whatever personal anguish or turmoil these folks may have experienced, it does not make sense in the cold light of cultural politics to use angry, confrontational language.  It doesn’t help.

Indeed, the beneficiary of this sort of anger seems to be Ken Ham himself. He has promoted this anti-Ham video on his blog and website.  As he says to his creationist readers,

Everyone needs to experience this video chat for themselves to get an understanding of the increasing intolerance and aggressiveness of many atheists against biblical Christianity. . . .

And let’s get churches in Texas aware of this intolerance by atheists and publically get out the word, including alerting the Christian media. Pastors should speak out about the increasing intolerance of atheists to their congregations. In fact, these video excerpts should be used by pastors across this nation to warn their flocks about the growing intolerance being directed at Christians and then equip their people to stand against these secular attacks. . . .

So, let’s use this video chat by atheists as a tool to offer some practical teaching about those people who oppose the Bible’s messages.

I can’t claim to know what it was like to be taught the doctrines of young-earth creationism or Protestant fundamentalism.  I understand that I might be angry if I had.  But like any political movement, venting too much spleen against our opponents only fuels the other side.  Hate may feel good sometimes.  It may feel righteous.  But it only digs deeper the culture-war trenches that have divided our country.